TikTok is conquering the porn industry despite the appearance of its own ‘cancel porn’ movement

By Malavika Pradeep

Published Mar 5, 2021 at 09:30 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Earlier this year, we had the Bernie Sanders mitten meme succumbing to the internet’s Rule 34, also known as ‘if it exists, there is porn of it’. The video featured adult performer Elle Hell embodying the senator, later ridding herself of the iconic manilla and everything vanilla on-camera. Forced to embrace a digital presence in recent times, these entertainers are always on the lookout for fresh inspiration and lately, they seem to be flocking to TikTokin all its glory with viral trends like ‘Silhouette’ and ‘Buss It’.

With an entire genre, ‘TikTok-style’ to their credit on Pornhub, these performers are tapping into popular trends and challenges to ensure their short-handed success. Gwen, a 25-year-old sex worker from Toronto admits to jumping on the TikTok trend of personifying popular restaurant chains. In an interview with Wired, she recalls spotting an opportunity within the trend. “A lot of other creators had done Goth IHOP or Femboy Hooters contentbut I wanted to take on milf Denny’s,” she added.

In her ‘TikTok-style’ video, Gwen role-plays a waitress working at Denny’s who seduces a customer into the break room. The video, a trailer for which was uploaded to Pornhub, was one of Gwen’s best-sellers in 2020. “The response was amazing,” she told Wired.

Apart from using TikTok as a source of inspiration, these entertainers often use the app for filming and editing their videos. Transitional edits are made easier on the app, facilitating seamless wardrobe changes for these users, in turn escalating their creative output. A report by xHamster Live tracks a broader shift in tastes favouring ‘homemade’ porn videos with younger millennials and gen Zers purchasing porn at a higher rate than Boomersparticularly if the video is created entirely by the stars themselves.

Such videos, even if not made using TikTok’s superior editing tools, often adopt similar formats and visual languages popularised by the platform. “This is done in order to lend popularity or relevance,” and “borrow the fresh feel of TikTok’s aesthetics,” said Katrin Tiidenberg, co-author of Sex and Social Media to Wired.

Some of these TikTok-style videos are even posted to the platform. While most of them get flagged and taken down for their violation of TikTok’s community guidelines, a number of them manage to slip past the algorithm. However, bear in mind that these videos don’t necessarily have to contain explicit content to help performers drive traffic to other platforms like their OnlyFans account.

Gwen admits to having made a video on TikTok, screen recorded it and uploaded it straight to her OnlyFans without ever posting it to TikTok. The app further lets users download unpublished videos without its iconic watermark. The free social media platform is hence used as a marketing toolto aid crossposting and drive traffic to paid work on other platforms such as OnlyFans and Pornhub.

Could you whiff out the irony with that statement though? Let me rephrase it for you: a platform, seeking to banish explicit content, with over 169 million views on the #cancelporn movement created by its own users, is being used to create and promote the same content.

‘Cancel porn’ must have popped up on your For You page in the past few months, after creators from all walks of life shared their stories of porn addictions, throwing ‘porn funerals’ in their wake. The message backing this movement deems porn as ‘inherently evil—normalising rape, pedophilia, misogyny and incest. Yet, despite the efforts of the movement, coupled with TikTok’s own community guidelines against ‘nudity, pornography and sexually explicit content’, the platform currently seems to be conquering everyone’s heart—including the porn industry’s.

Which side is right, and which is wrong? Like most things in life, the answer to this argument is neither black nor white. Some of the content produced by sex workers using the app’s features has absolutely nothing wrong about it. It all boils down to when capitalising on TikTok’s popularity becomes problematic. For example, when compilations sexualising users—often made with clips downloaded without the creator’s consent—surface on platforms like Pornhub.

So, what can be done? What is the permanent solution for a platform seeking to ban explicit content? While apps like SWYP, known as the ‘lovechild of TikTok and YouPorn’, aim to redirect this niche audience to a space dedicated to TikTok-style porn viewing, it begs the question: is there a fool-proof way for social media platforms to ensure user compliance with an audience increasingly dependent on technology for their living? Although a positive answer would prove to be the miracle that all social media giants have been hoping for, so far, even the strongest algorithms combined with the savviest human moderators have not been able to crack it.

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